V. S. Pritchett Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Victor Sawden Pritchett (PRIHCH-iht) was a master of the short story. He was born near London of lower-middle-class parents. Owing to his father’s lack of business sense, the family moved constantly from house to house, from one set of relatives to another. The father, who usually worked as a traveling salesman, dominated his undernourished wife and children, and his conversion to Christian Science caused frequent family quarrels. At school, Pritchett was a mediocre student except in shorthand, French, and German. His hopes of attending a university were shattered when, just before his sixteenth birthday, he was abruptly taken out of school and made an apprentice in the leather trade. His long-smoldering ambition to become a writer led him to abandon his job and move to France in 1921.

In Paris Pritchett lived meagerly and mingled with modest working people. In his leisure he walked indefatigably, read voraciously, and tried to write. Eventually he had some articles accepted by The Christian Science Monitor, which could not pay him because of its financial troubles in Boston. After nearly starving to death, Pritchett returned to England. The newspaper’s London editor promptly sent him to Ireland to write a series of articles on the civil war. Since he knew nothing about politics, he indulged his passions for the countryside, the theater, and Irish poets. As a correspondent, he was later sent to North Africa and the United States.

After being dismissed by The Christian Science Monitor and returning to London in the late 1920’s, Pritchett resolved to walk across...

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V. S. Pritchett Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Victor Sawden Pritchett was born in Ipswich, Suffolk, England, of middle-class parents. His father, Walter, a Yorkshireman, espoused a strict Congregationalism. He married Beatrice of London, whom he had met when both worked in a draper’s shop. Enthralled by wild business schemes, Walter often left his family for months as he pursued dreams that shattered and left the family destitute, forcing it into innumerable moves and frequent sharing of flats with relatives. Often a traveling salesman, Pritchett’s father, despite his long absences, caused the family unmitigated misery when he returned. Pritchett’s dictatorial father is reflected in many of his stories and novels, and Pritchett is completely frank in his autobiography about his father’s brutality.

Most remarkable, Pritchett received only the barest of formal training at Alleyn’s Grammar School, which he left when he was only sixteen to enter the leather trade. Clever with languages, he soon showed proficiency in French. He read omnivorously. In his stories, he reflects a cerebral ability, perceptiveness, and imagism. Despite his lack of formal training in literature, he is, in the twentieth century, considered to be one of the best writers of the short story in England. In 1975, he was knighted as Sir Victor for his contributions to literature.

After working in the leather trade for several years as a tanner, he left for a two-year interlude in Paris. Those years as a tanner were fruitful, he has declared, for he encountered all classes of people in England, a factor noted in his short stories, depicting the monied aristocrats and the working classes, together with the middle classes that he fixes in amber. In Paris, he worked in a photography shop as clerk and letter writer but soon wearied of the routines and determined to become a writer. His connection with The Christian Science Monitor became the key transitional phase, for he wrote and published for this newspaper a series of articles. When there was no longer a need for these articles written in Paris, The Christian Science Monitor sent him to Ireland, where the civil war raged. Pritchett soaked up experiences from his wide travels as he journeyed from Dublin to Cork,...

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V. S. Pritchett Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In December of 1900, in lodgings over a toy shop in Ipswich, England, Victor Sawdon Pritchett was born, the first child of Beatrice Martin and Walter Pritchett, who had met in the milliner’s shop where they both worked. The marriage apparently began passionately, three children following quickly after Victor, but because of Walter’s many business misadventures and his conversion to Christian Science, the marriage was soon unsettled and its passion converted to quarrelsomeness. Although the Pritchetts were not shiftless, their household was often shifted about: By the time Pritchett was twelve, the family had moved around London at least fourteen times, usually so that Walter Pritchett could escape creditors, twice to hide his bankruptcy. Beatrice Pritchett lived in constant fear of creditors (once denying her identity on opening the door to an officer attempting to serve a writ) and in outspoken jealousy of the “other women” in her husband’s life—his mother, his business partner (“Miss H”), and Mary Baker Eddy (founder of the Christian Science Church).

Because the family never stayed in one place for long, Pritchett felt that he belonged nowhere, that he was an outsider everywhere but in his own, rather strange, family. In addition to moving with his parents, he was sent at intervals to his grandparents in Yorkshire, an arrangement contrived, apparently, to ease the burden on Walter Pritchett’s purse. New problems complicated their home life from 1910, when in Camberwell, Walter was converted to Christian Science. His conversion brought on quarrels with Beatrice about “that woman” that lasted well into the night, and later his business failed. After a year’s separation, during which time Pritchett formed a vague idea that he would become a painter, Beatrice and the children rejoined Walter in Dulwich, where he had established an art needlework trade with his former bookkeeper, Miss H.

Until he moved to Dulwich, Pritchett had received only sporadic schooling, and then only in rough Methodist and penny-a-day schools, because his father did not trouble himself about the children’s education. Finally, Beatrice grew impatient with Walter’s ruminations over the prospectuses from Eton and Harrow, for which Pritchett would never have qualified because, among other things, he knew no Latin, and she enrolled him in Rosendale Road School. There he was awarded a copy of John Ruskin’s Modern Painters (1843-1860) for one of his paintings, and there, too, under a man named Bartlett, he read his first literature. He promptly began to read whatever he could find, having decided to become a writer. He became known in the family as “Dirty Poet” and “Professor.”

Two years later, to impress Miss H, his father allowed him to sit for an examination for a scholarship to the Strand School (Streatham), which he failed. Pritchett identifies this failure in A Cab at the Door as a turning point in his life, for he believed that had he won the scholarship, he surely would have continued at a university and died as a writer. Instead, at Miss H’s expense, he entered Alleyn’s School, a London grammar school founded to educate the lower middle classes. There he learned that he was good at languages, and he also enjoyed a few classroom successes with his writing. Around this time, he sprained his ankle, and this accident was the occasion of his first hearing the Christian Science argument from his father. Not long afterward, Pritchett professed his belief in it, probably out of a need to please his father, but his faith seems never to have been very strong. Church provided a social outlet for him, the children otherwise not being allowed to go out.

In 1916, at the instigation of his grandfather, Pritchett was taken from school and put to work as a clerk in a London firm that manufactured leather goods. After fighting with another clerk on the office floor, he was promoted out of the office to learn the other phases of the trade. For four years he commuted into London, so happy with the idea of thoroughly learning a trade that for a while...

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V. S. Pritchett Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

V. S. Pritchett (PRIH-chiht) was born into a middle-class family on December 16, 1900, in Ipswich, England. He was the firstborn son of Walter Pritchett, a Yorkshireman, and Beatrice Martin, a Londoner. Within six years three other children, Cyril, Kathleen, and Gordon, were born. The Pritchett family led miserable lives inasmuch as Walter possessed an unstable nature, indulging in frequent job changes and forcing his family into an itinerant life of moving from one relative’s home to another. (Although unwilling to discuss much of his private life, Pritchett referred to the negative, and sometimes brutal, aspects of his father in his autobiographies and fiction.)

Pritchett attended Alleyn’s Grammar School for two...

(The entire section is 1061 words.)

V. S. Pritchett Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

V. S. Pritchett’s impact on the world of literature rests on his many and varied short stories. They encompass eccentric characters, multifarious settings, and appealing “plots” through which he develops a microcosm of society. Life is filled with challenges, a theme he developed in his short fiction, but the most significant is the interrelationship of people who must compromise with others or come to terms with their own foibles and flaws. With ironic satire and wry humor, Pritchett genially fashioned his world of fiction through Joycean epiphanies. Many of his eccentrics never glean insights into the human soul, but those who do live their fates with mutual tolerance toward their acquaintances, families, and friends. V. S....

(The entire section is 124 words.)